The key defense attorney in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case charged Friday that therapists at Children's Institute International failed to report hundreds of cases of suspected child abuse promptly, as required by law, and that prosecutors in the district attorney's office conspired with them to cover up the delay.
"My information indicates that Children's Institute International and Kee MacFarlane (a social worker who heads the institute's diagnostic program) have consciously violated the law, which requires a written report of any suspected abuse within 36 hours," said Daniel Davis, who represents key defendant Ray Buckey, 27.
Buckey is one of seven former teachers at the Virginia McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach who are accused of molesting 14 children left in their care between 1978 and 1983. Buckey faces about 90 counts of molestation and conspiracy.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin refused to answer specific questions from reporters on the matter. MacFarlane branded the accusations as "absurd and ridiculous" but did admit Davis was correct on one point.
In a press conference Davis gave during a lunch recess in the preliminary hearing, he called on state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner to investigate the situation ". . . (because) they can get more information than I."
"Either they disobeyed the law, or they didn't believe that the child was molested," Davis said.
He noted that while hundreds of children who attended the now-defunct Virginia McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach were interviewed between January and April, 1984, the written reports were not turned in until September of last year. He said forms were late on at least half of the 14 children who testified in the preliminary hearing and may never have been turned in on some.
State law requires that anyone who works with children must report suspected child abuse to authorities "immediately or as soon as practically possible by telephone and shall prepare and send a written report thereof within 36 hours of receiving the information concerning the incident." Failure to do so is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
MacFarlane said Davis is correct about one thing: "We didn't report on the reporting forms until the deluge (of children) died down."
She explained that her team interviewed about 400 children and that at one time there were 250 on the institute's waiting list.
"Instead," she said, "we worked with the district attorney and the Manhattan Beach police to transmit the information in three ways":
- Making the videotaped interviews, files and medical reports available to them.
- Ongoing verbal communication with both on an almost daily basis for months, including several face-to face meetings.
- Referring to police every parent whose child the institute had any suspicion about after an interview.
"When the rush died down," MacFarlane said, "we put our staff on overtime for three weeks and processed 400 child-abuse forms and sent them in to the police and the (county) Department of Children's Services.
"It was a technicality. Everybody who got them knew what they contained already."
She said the forms show both the date they were filled out and the earlier date of the videotaped interviews and medical examinations.
"It's a ridiculous attempt to focus attention on the forms themselves, rather than on the information that they contain," she said, "namely, that hundreds of children were molested."